New York's Skadden Arps, one of the biggest firms in the United States, is offering its graduate recruits a five-week intensive business education program.
The “virtual MBA” course teaches finance and accounting, covering income statements, balance sheets and cash flows. Graduates learn how to deliver presentations, talk to clients and communicate business ideas.
ALPMA president Andrew Barnes (pictured) recommended that Australian firms consider similar business training programs to develop the skill sets of graduates beyond simply practising law.
These kinds of education initiatives have benefits internally as they lift employee engagement. Lawyers with business acumen also make better overall commercial advisers, which helps attract and retain clients.
“Lawyers are engaged for legal advice, but more and more this advice needs to be embedded within advice that relates to the broader commercial interests of the client,” said Mr Barnes.
“Will the client relationship endure if you continue to serve up brilliant, technically perfect legal advice in a vacuum?” he asked.
“It is a competitive landscape. You might be competing against a full-service professional services firm with highly capable lawyers – not perfect – but whose advice is enhanced because it is delivered within the context of the client’s market and business landscape.”
Mr Barnes said he expected more university leavers to come to their first job with a mix of legal and business education in future.
“As external forces continue to shape the profession one of the next layers of competition will come from commercially experienced post-graduates with a bolt on second degree – law,” he said.
“These people will have sat their first law lecture with a broad-based business footing already, not fresh from high school.
“As they study, they will be relating their degree to the real world. They will be joining professional services firms with momentum behind them – and with legal just one of multiple disciplines in their new firm.”
Mr Barnes said non-traditional firms may be the first to target high-achieving lawyers and give them the best business education possible ‘on the job’.
“Australian law firms may not realise that their brightest people are this vulnerable,” he said.